How To Avoid SEO Disaster During A Website Redesign
In this online marketing tip, I’m going to provide you with a website redesign SEO checklist that will help you stop an SEO disaster BEFORE you go live with your redesigned website.
One of the most common questions we hear is: does a website redesign affect SEO?
The short answer is, YES – a website redesign will affect your SEO. Done incorrectly (tragic case study below) you can completely wipe out ALL of your hard-earned SEO. There are many technical and non-technical areas that require careful planning. Many website redesigns are not difficult, but you do need to follow a process to preserve the SEO you have established.
At some point and time, you are going to want to update your site’s look and feel. If your site has Google organic traffic and that Google organic traffic is important to you – which it should be – you are going to want to pay close attention – here’s why…
A new site launch done incorrectly could instantly erase thousands of dollars in “free” Google organic traffic to your website (stay to the end and you’ll see an example of a site that erased 8 years of SEO work that was worth more than $20,000 per month in paid traffic never mind the even greater losses in potential new revenue).
DO NOT take this process lightly.
This checklist of items is not hard to follow – it just requires a bit of planning and execution. Throughout this process, make sure someone on the team has been through this process before and has SEO experience.
I’ve been through many of these new website projects in highly competitive organic niches (personal injury law, dentistry, plumbing, even my company’s website) and maintained rankings each time following the new site launch.
So, here’s your website redesign checklist to maintain a smooth transition and hold your organic rankings:
- Page URLs should stay the same– if you absolutely must change page URLs, then use a 301 redirect to transfer all the history and equity that page has to the new URL (but avoid changing the page address at all costs)
- Use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to find external links to any pages where the URL changed and reach out to those sites and ask to have them update the links
- Keep the page content the same – do not change it – in my case study below, once the new site was done none of the original page content was brought over
- Ensure all on-page site tagging remains as well
- Title tag
- Meta description
- Canonical tags
- Alt tags on any images
- H1, H2 tags
- Video metadata
- Schema markups on your address, phone, etc and any other elements
- Other tags in the <head> section of your site that verified who you were in the old site need to be migrated over as well – for example:
- Your publisher link, <link rel=”publisher” href=”https://plus.google.com/… Google actually prefers you claim your Google My Business page and link back to your site from that vs. using the publisher tag
- Your Facebook Open Graph tags, and there are typically several of these, ex: <meta property=”og:site_name” content=”…
- Twitter info: <meta name=”twitter:creator” content=”…
- **Even if you do everything else right, if these <head> tags are not migrated over your site will take a hit on rankings if they were done right on the old site
- Internal linking should remain as well – if page A was linking to page B then those links should be maintained (related post on how to do internal linking for SEO)
- You can use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to find all the internal links pointing to a page
- Links to and from other content and socials channels should be maintained as well if they were there on the old site – I’ve seen cases where links to an author’s Google profile or Google My Business page, YouTube channel, etc were not maintained it affected rankings downward during the new site launch
- Make sure the robots.txt file is restored and loaded on the new site along with a link to the XML sitemap in the robots.txt file
- Sitemaps and footer links should all be maintained as well, and if any page URLs have changed they need to be updated in the sitemaps
- Make sure if possible the same images and videos on each page get transferred over to the newly designed pages identical to how they were with same metadata and file names
- Keep the site’s architecture similar if you can – if on-page content is shifted around on a page (i.e.higher or lower) it could affect how Google perceives its weight or value
- Make sure the new site design is mobile responsive and run Google’s mobile-friendly test here, https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
- Make sure the new site stays verified in Google Search Console (GSC) – you may need to reverify the site
- Submit the site to be re-crawled in Google Search Console if URLs changed
- Resubmit sitemaps in GSC if page URLs changed
- Make sure Google Analytics and any conversion tracking codes are on the new site (or Google Tag Manager if that is what you’re using to insert tracking and conversion codes on your site)
- If you’re building the new site on a server that can be crawled by Google, then block that site from being crawled with your robots.txt file until it is live (just don’t forget to remove that block once the new site is live or your pages will drop out of the index!)
- Before going live, run a tool like Screaming Frog on the dev site to identify any broken pages, missing Title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, H1 tags, etc…this will help ensure a smooth launch
- Post Launch of the new site:
- Track the number of pages indexed in Google using Google Search Console to ensure no pages dropped
- Track impressions and clicks
- Track your rankings
- Monitor page load times
- Keep a backup of the old website and be ready to restore the old site if you see rankings or impressions dip until you can identify what the cause was
And now for the case study of how to ruin 8 years worth of SEO work.
This particular dental site ranked #1 in the local pack and #1 in the traditional organic results for more than 100 terms related to dental implants and sedation dentistry in the 4th largest metro market in the United States (and the site had overall more than 270 terms on the first page). One lead from either of these specialized topics is potentially worth $10,000 – $20,000 or more depending on the severity of the dental case.
The monthly cost to buy the organic traffic in Adwords would have been more than $20,000!
And just like that…
The new site went live and when Google re-crawled the site about a week later all the pages dropped out of the index.
The site’s SEO and top page rankings melted away like snowflakes in July in Houston (if you’ve never been to Houston in July it’s sweltering with 70% humidity and temperatures in the high 90’s).
Here’s just a sample of the terms the site was ranking for before the new site launch:
Google Search Console also reported a total of more than 272 total terms that were on the first page.
Here’s a screenshot of the Google SERPs on how the site was ranking for several different terms BEFORE the new site launched:
And here’s another SERP showing top organic keyword placements for highly competitive terms:
Here’s a screenshot a week later for the same query in Google – nowhere to be found:
So why did this happen?
- NONE of the old website’s content was brought over to the new site
- The prior site was well designed with SEO in mind, and entire silos of content were developed around specific topics to rank the site for hundreds of high-value terms
- ALL ranking page URLs changed, and no 301 redirects were put in place – visitors received a “page not found” error, so these pages dropped out of Google’s index
- No internal linking was set up based on old site linking (which could not have been done anyway since none of the old page content made it over)
- The site’s new default URL was changed from www to non-www
- Outbound links to the dentist’s other social sites were dropped from the new site (e. Google profile page, Google My Business, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc)
And the moral of this story taken from Aesop’s Fables about The Lion, the Ass, and the Fox:
Learn from the failures of others!
The website owner took for granted his organic rankings that had delivered year after year and a new agency sold him a bill of goods that failed to deliver.
We welcome your comments or questions below on how to maintain your SEO through a website redesign.